Wednesday, November 21, 2007

When bad things happen to God's people

Again a brief, and late, reflection on the lessons for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time:

  • Malachi 3:19-20a
  • Psalm 98:5-6, 7-8, 9
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
  • Luke 21:5-19
Next Sunday, the feast of Christ the King, will be the last Sunday of this year in the liturgical calendar. When we note that this passage is part of Jesus' last teachings in the Gospel of Luke before the Passion narrative, we can expect that this selection should be some kind of summation of what we have been hearing for months. It is, but not what we might want to hear.

Jesus warns that we will not think that things are going well at all, including warnings that could come from this, or any other morning's news:
"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end."

Then he said to them,

"Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.

"Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name."
The disciples feel just like we do -- they are frightened and uncertain. Just like us, they ask Jesus for some sign as to when this will happen, probably so they can get out of town first. Jesus does not oblige, and specifically warns us against those who will try to answer that question for us. He tells us that if things go right, things will be going very wrong indeed, at least from our point of view.

When things get strange and uncertain, our first impulse is to take control, often taking it back from God. Trying to live according to God's guidance is all well and good when things are all going well and good. We seem to think that storm clouds on the horizon show that God has failed us, and that we have to take charge again. In telling the disciples not to prepare testimony but to trust to God to give them the words, Jesus reminds us that in these times out hope is not in our own ability, or in God somehow magically rescuing us. Our hope is in what God will do through us, if we let Him.

It is when things really go wrong that we have the greatest ability to show just who we can be, and who God is by what he can do through us.

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